Colin Tizzard and Noel Chance, who provided Richard Johnson with his two victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, paid tribute to the four-time champion jockey following his retirement from the saddle.
The 43-year-old announced his unexpected decision after riding at Newton Abbot on Saturday – calling time on a glittering career spanning almost three decades.
Johnson and the Tizzard-trained Native River proved a match made in heaven – winning an epic Gold Cup in 2018 as well as finishing third in the blue riband in 2017, fourth in 2019 and fourth again last month.
Tizzard, who will shortly hand over the training licence at Venn Farm to son Joe, cannot speak highly enough of Johnson’s talent and determination to succeed.
He said: “I’m just glad he’s got out in one piece.
“He’s been phenomenal. He’s been a complete professional on and off horses and an example for any jockey coming through.
“When the opportunity came for him to ride Native River, it was like poetry in motion. They gelled together – him and that horse are like each other and achieved things we never thought possible.
“His work ethic is incredible and he’s just a good man.”
Johnson’s second Gold Cup success came 18 years after his first, with Looks Like Trouble claiming victory in 2000.
Seven years later he went on to marry trainer Noel Chance’s daughter, with whom he now has three children.
Chance said: “We were sort of expecting something to happen for the last couple of weeks.
“I think he’s already said that if Native River had won the Gold Cup he’d have gone out on him, but once that didn’t happen, he really wanted to go out on one for Philip Hobbs.
“You could still be at it a month down the line and when your mind is made up, you’ve just got to do it.”
Chance recalls his first meeting with Johnson in 1995 with fondness, with his first ride for the trainer a winning one.
“We had a runner in the Summer Hurdle at Market Rasen,” Chance added.
“I was a private trainer at the time and we couldn’t get any of the big name jockeys to ride the horse.
“The fellow who owned the horse got the hump and said he’d seen a kid ride in a hunter chase a few days earlier. He said he should have fallen off, but he didn’t and his name was Johnson, so he asked me to see if we could get him.
“This was before there were a lot of jockeys’ agents and to cut a long story short, it took me two days to locate him! When I did, he was delighted to take the ride and his talent shone through immediately.
“He never went round one horse, he was on the inside the whole way round and sluiced in to win what was a very competitive handicap as a 7lb claimer.
“After that the owner wanted him to ride everything and he then fell in for the ride on Mr Mulligan and won the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot the following year.
“I’ve known him a long time and his greatest attribute is he’s a great human being. He always has been.”
After being runner-up to Sir Anthony McCoy on several occasions, Johnson finally became the champion National Hunt jockey for the first time in 2016 – a title he successfully defended for the following three years before Brian Hughes claimed the crown last season.
Hughes, who is currently in an enthralling title race with Harry Skelton, told Racing TV: “It’s definitely the end of an era.
“It’s going to be different in the weighing room. I’ve known Richard since I’ve been in this country. He went out on his own terms and I wish him and his family all the best for the next chapter.
“I used to watch Richard Johnson from being very young. When he won his first Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, he was bred only five miles down the road from where I’m from, so it was the talk of the country at the time.
“When you’re riding against him, he’s an absolute gentleman. I can’t remember him ever raising his voice. He’s a brilliant man off the course, but a fierce competitor on it.
“He’s been at the top of his game for a long time and I was reading earlier where AP McCoy said he was so successful because he had someone like Richard Johnson pushing him every step of the way – I don’t think we’ll ever see the like of AP and Richard Johnson again.
“We all aspire to be as good as them, but in reality I don’t think we ever will be.”
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